Third Circuit Will Delay Ownership Decision

Will wait until new FCC can reexamine the crossownership issue

A three-judge panel on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday agreed to delay ruling on challenges to the FCC's loosening of the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules until a newly constituted FCC can take another look at it, if it chooses to.

According to a copy of the ruling, it has also given interested parties 21 days to tell it why it should not lift the stay on the FCC rule change.

The FCC two weeks ago reversed an earlier position and said it would no longer oppose a petition by public interest groups including Free Press, Prometheus Radio and United Church of Christ, to hold the case in abeyance pending new FCC leadership.

Under its old leadership-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin-the FCC had quietly filed a petition opposing the groups, but the FCC under acting Chairman Michael Copps said that the opposition "no longer reflects the view of the majority of the commission."

Talking to reporters after a speech to the NCTA convention in Washington about the FCC's reversal, Copps said "I would hope as some point we would look at this again. I think that public policy would mandate that we look at this again."

But Copps made it clear he was not necessarily advocating further deregulation in the face of the tanking newspaper industry. "No, I do not believe that that sends a signal that, whoopee, we should have more newspaper broadcast cross-ownership," he said at the time.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of Media Access Project, which filed the petition for abeyance, said Tuesday he was "very pleased" that the granted the motion. "It gives the new FCC membership a chance to review the situation and therefore potentially saves a great deal of wasted effort."

He said he believed they would leave the stay in place. So why did the court seek in put on lifting the stay, phrasing it as wanting to know why it should not be lifted? "I think after six years you want to just check in and ask people should we still be doing this," said Schwartzman.

Among those opposing delaying a court decision were the Newspaper Association of America, Media General, Tribune, CBS, Fox, Gannett and a number of other broadcast groups.